Velázquez Urges Senate Leaders to Reject Trump Superfund Nominee
Points to Peter Wright’s Chemical Industry Ties
Washington, DC – Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) has written to Senate Leadership urging the chamber to reject Peter Wright’s nomination to a top post in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that oversees the Superfund program. Created in 1980, the Superfund program requires that corporate parties found responsible for a site’s pollution, be held accountable by contributing to cleanup costs. Velázquez argues that Wright’s track record of defending corporate polluters makes him unfit to be trusted to advance the cleanup of Superfund sites.
In her letter, Velázquez’s details Wright’s role as a lawyer at Dow Chemical, where he has been accused of working to conceal the public health risks of the chemical, dioxin and strategically lessen Dow’s responsibility to contribute to a Superfund cleanup project in Midland, Michigan.
“Putting a former Dow attorney who enabled the company’s pollution in charge of Superfund would mean the fox is guarding the henhouse,” said Velázquez. “This is yet one more example of Donald Trump putting big corporations before the public health and the Senate needs to reject this nomination.”
Velázquez’s district contains three Superfund sites: the Gowanus Canal; Newtown Creek; and the Wolff-Alport Chemical Company. A top advocate for Superfund cleanup in Congress, Velázquez recently introduced legislation to reinstate a tax on corporate polluters and urged the federal government to increase funding for Superfund cleanup.
“This is an issue of social justice,” said Velázquez. “I’ve got three Superfund sites in my district and we had more than 17,000 cases of pediatric asthma in a single year. New Yorkers deserve a Superfund chief who cares about families and kids, not big polluters and Trump’s corporate pals.”
The full text of the letter is below. For a PDF, click here.
September 10th, 2018
The Honorable Mitch McConnell The Honorable Charles E. Schumer
Majority Leader Minority Leader
United States Senate United States Senate
Room S-230, The Capitol Room S-221, The Capitol
Washington, DC 20510 Washington, DC 20510
Dear Leader McConnell and Leader Schumer:
I write you to express concerns regarding the nomination of Peter C. Wright as assistant administrator for the office of Land and Emergency Management of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which oversees the National Priorities List or “Superfund” program. As the Representative of a district with three Superfund sites, it is of the utmost importance to my constituents that the Administrator of the Superfund program prioritizes cleanup of these areas, rather than reducing polluters’ liability. It is my belief that Mr. Wright is not that candidate and fails to meet this important public interest test.
Mr. Wright’s self-professed central qualification for this position is his work in Dow Chemical’s headquarters at the Midland, Michigan cleanup site, where he earned his unofficial title as the “company’s dioxin lawyer” . Mr. Wright was first assigned to the Midland cleanup project in 2003, the year after Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality alerted residents to “the presence of significant concentrations of dioxin” in local soil . Additionally, the EPA said in an August 2007 memo that “Dow has frequently provided information to the public that contradicts agency positions, and generally accepted scientific information.” A Dow newsletter mailed to residents in 2004 stated that there were minimal health effects associated with exposure to dioxin, citing a health study conducted by Dow Chemical that was contested and dismissed by the EPA .
In a 2017 email to the EPA’s chief of staff, made public last month through court proceedings, Mr. Wright called it “the most controversial matter and the single most publicly successful matter that I have worked on at Dow” . The “success” Mr. Wright professed was his ability to slow walk the federal government and lower the burden of responsibility that Dow would hold in the cleanup project. Mr. Wright’s tactics even resulted in suspending cleanup negotiations with the EPA in 2008, "EPA does not believe that the deal Dow is offering goes far enough," said Ralph Dollhopf, Associate Director for the Superfund Division of EPA's Regional Office in Chicago.
"Key issues that are paramount for protecting human health and the environment remain unresolved. EPA simply will not accept any deal that is not comprehensive" . Regional Administrator Mary A. Gade went further after the negotiations soured, “I am extremely disappointed with this outcome… EPA approached negotiations with high hopes and realistic expectations. Our team put in many long hours of good faith efforts that came to an unfortunate end today. EPA is now reviewing its options for ensuring that dioxin contamination in the river system and the Midland area can be fully addressed" . An eventual agreement was reached between Dow Chemical and the EPA in 2010, but only after two years of blame avoidance, inaction, and unwillingness to remediate this site.
Furthermore, Mr. Wright personally sought to contest EPA findings that dioxin was harmful to humans. In 2005, Mr. Wright wrote about dioxin risk in an article published by the American Bar Association, described dioxin as “highly toxic to a variety of animal species but not to humans.” However, the World Health Organization (WHO) completely debunked Mr. Wrights’ assertion at that time; the WHO has previously found that dioxin is a carcinogen and is indeed linked to reproductive and developmental problems while also damaging the immune system . Anyone with a history of employing these deceitful tactics should be precluded from running the oversight and regulatory body of the Superfund program.
Of over 1,300 federally designated Superfund sites, there are three in my home of the 7th Congressional District of New York: the Gowanus Canal, Newtown Creek, and the Wolff-Alport Chemical Company. In 2010, I assisted in securing Superfund designation for the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek, and in 2014, for Wolff-Alport Chemical Company. I am deeply concerned that the progress we have made over the last decade will be imperiled should Mr. Wright be confirmed to administer the program.
As the Senate moves toward a vote to confirm Mr. Wright, I strongly urge you take into account his career as Dow's lead attorney. New Yorkers and Americans who live near a Superfund site deserve a champion for the public health in this role, not an advocate for corporate interests and a skeptic of environmental science.
Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to your response.
Nydia M. Velázquez
Member of Congress